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Let us educate ourselves about Odissi: Rimli Bhattacharya

Odissi is a typical female prepotent dance form enacted mostly by women. The dance is based on religious narratives with Vaishnavism in particular where we identify Vishnu as Lord Jagannath.

Education Post23 April 2020 04:41

Let us educate ourselves about Odissi: Rimli Bhattacharya

Odissi previously known as Orissi is one of the major prehistoric Indian classical dance form. Its origins are traced in the Hindu temples of Odisha an eastern littoral state in India. The Sangeet Natak Academy discerns classical status on the major eight Indian dance forms: Odissi emanating from Odisha, Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu, Kathak from Northern India, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri from Manipur, Sattriya from Assam and Mohiniattam and Kathakali originating from Kerala.

Odissi is a typical female prepotent dance form enacted mostly by women. The dance is based on religious narratives with Vaishnavism in particular where we identify Vishnu as Lord Jagannath.  The rich

heritage of Odissi is exhibited from Odisha Hindu temples and various platforms of prehistoric gravity that are analogous with Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The sculptures of these embellish the dance postures of this art form. A semblance of explicative reminiscence of mythological, religious and spiritual ideas executed by the dancer with a stupendous combination of body movements, assertions, spectacular Mudras, sign languages and Navarasas; its staging repertory includes citation, Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (expressive dance), Natya (dance drama) and Moksha (liberation or spiritual release). The theme of this dance form revolves around folklores from Vaishnavism and others analogous with Hindu gods and goddesses such as Shiva, Shakti, Vairavi and Surya. Odissi is executed as an amalgamation of basic dance monograms called the Bhangas (uniform body bends). The dance involves coalescence of lower (footwork), mid (torso) and upper (hand and head) as three origins of ameliorating countenance and audience rendezvous with diametrical symmetry and rhythmic musical fullness.

The nuances in Odissi

Odissi is divided in two major techniques – the first is honed by women and enthralled on ceremonial, sacred temple dance (maharis); the second ameliorated by boys dressed as girls (gotipuas) which permutated to include athletic and acrobatic moves. These were performed during festive occasions in temples and also as rustic entertainment. Each dance form has its own invocation and Odissi is no different. It starts with an intercession known as Mangalacharana. Mangalacharana is a hymn sung in praise of God and the meaning is expressed by the dancer by his/her Abhinaya (action). This next step is followed by Pushpanjali (offering of flowers) and Bhumi Pranam (obeisance to mother earth). The intercession also encompasses Trikhandi Pranam (three fold salutation) to the Gods, to the Gurus and to the fellow dancer and audience.

The fundamental characteristic of Odissi dance is the Tribangi.  The concept of Tribangi divides the body in three parts – head, bust and torso. The stance dealing with these three sections are called Tribhangi. Mudra is also an important element in Odissi dance. The term Mudra means ‘stamp’ and is a hand gesture describing things. An Odissi theme is practically spiritual in nature and mostly revolves around the stories of love and devotion for Lord Krishna.

Odissi – the mudras

The Mudra system of Odissi is derived from the “Abhinaya Darpana” by Nandikeshavara and the ancient Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni.

In Odissi the basic units are known as bhangas. The bhangas are further made up of eight belis, or body postures and movements, combined in different varieties. The motion is uthas (rising or up), baithas (sitting or down) or sthankas (standing). The gaits or movement on the dance floor is called chaalis, with movement tempo linked to emotions as mentioned in the classical Sanskrit texts. Burhas or quick pace suggest excitement and a slow confused pace suggests dejection. For aesthetics, movement is centered on a core, a point in space or floor, and each dancer has her imaginary square of space, with spins and expression held within it. The foot movement or pada bhedas too have basic dance units, and Odissi has six of these, in comparison to four found in most classical Indian dances.

The three basic dance postures in Odissi are Samabhanga, Abhanga and Tribhanga.

More about mudras in Odissi

Mudras or Hastas are hand gestures meant to manifest the meaning of a given act. The emotions, feelings, moods in the dance drama are conveyed through the Mudras. Odissi comprises of 63 Mudras with names closely matching with those in Abhinaya Chandrika. As mentioned earlier the Mudra methodology has stemmed from “Abhinaya Darpana” by Nandikeshavara and also from Bharta Muni’s ancient Natya Shastra.

Role of costumes in Odissi

Costume plays a very prominent role in Odissi dance. The female dancers wear a beaming/blazing silk garment like Bomkai Saree or Sambalpuri Saree. The Saree is nicely pleated downwards for flexible movements of the dancers and also to exhibit the excellent footwork. Head, neck, ear, nose, arms and wrists are embellished with silver jewellery. The musical anklets called ghunghroo are tied to the ankles and an intricate belt is adorned in the waist. Like all other dance forms here also the feet and palms are colored with Red Alta. A tikka is worn on the forehead. The eyes are contoured with Kajal for proper display of eye movements by the dancers. The hair is neatly tied in a bun gilded by Seenthi. The hair may either be adorned by a moon shaped plume of white flowers or with a Mukoot that is a reed crown symbolizing Lord Krishna. The male dancer wears a dhoti neatly pleated in front and folded between the legs covering the lower body from the waist till the feet. The upper body remains bare. The elaborate belt or bengapatteya is tied to the waist.

The music style in this dance form is distinctive as it integrates Indian Ragas from both North and South India. The principal ragas of Odissi are ‘Shokabaradi’, ‘Karnata’, ‘Shree Gowda’ ‘Dhanashri’, ‘Panchama’, ‘Bhairavee’, ‘Nata’, ‘Baradi’ and ‘Kalyana’.

The Navarasas

Odissi is a very ancient dance form which dates back to 6th and 9th century CE. Since then the dance form has seen several upheavals but finally has emerged as the one of the toughest form of Indian classical dance. The rich choreography and elaborate collusion of Eyes, Mudras, Navarasas, Bhangas, Footwork and Ragas conveys nexus chronicles of sacrifice, love and humankind’s relationship with God.  The prodigies who resuscitated this art form during late 1940s include Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghunath Dutta, Deba Prasad Das, Pankaj Charan Das and Gangadhar Pradhan. The instrumental role played by Guru Mayadhar Raut saw the dance form achieving classical status. Other famous exponents include disciples of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra namely Sanjukta Panigrahi, Sonal Mansingh and Kumkum Mohanty; Aruna Mohanty, Anita Babu and Aadya Kaktikar to mention a few.

According to “Dance and Architecture: Body, Form, Space and Transformation” though the new form of Odissi had its roots ancient and celebrated yet it had commutated to conform to the changing cultural trends of the people during the 1950s-60s. Previously this dance form was confined only within the religious doors of the Hindu temples. Upon its revival by the Gurus it is now more of a secular dance form performed on stages worldwide.


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